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Christ University Law Journal, 3, 1 (2014), 83-94

ISSN 2278-4322|

Judicial Analysis of the Powers and

Functions of the Administrative Tribunals

Sanjay Gupta* and Smriti Sharma


Administrative tribunals are adjudicating bodies

established to relieve the traditional courts from the ever
mounting pressure of litigation. This paper makes an
analysis of the powers and functions of the administrative
tribunals as laid down by the judiciary. A series of case
laws are examined at length which debate the nature of
the functions of the tribunals and also elucidate the
importance of tribunals in dispensation of justice.

Keywords: Constitution, Court, Justice, Litigation, Tribunal


Administrative Tribunals have existed in a rudimentary form for

quite some time. In 1958, in order to relieve the courts, from the
burden of service litigation, the Law Commission recommended
the establishment of tribunals consisting of judicial and
administrative members to decide service matters.1 The Central
Government appointed a committee under the chairmanship of
Justice J.C. Shah of the Supreme Count of India in 1969, which also

* Associate Professor, Department of Law, University of Jammu, Jammu,


Research Scholar, Department of Law, University of Jammu, Jammu.

ADMINISTRATION (1958), available at


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made similar recommendations.2 In 1975, Swaran Singh Committee

again recommended the setting up of service tribunals.3 The idea of
setting up of service tribunals is to save the courts from the
avalanche of writ petitions and appeals in service matters. This also
found favour with the Supreme Court of India in K.K. Dutta v.
Union of India.4 It was against this backdrop that the Parliament
passed the Constitution (42nd Amendment) Act, 1976 which added
Part XIV – A to the Constitution. Article 323-A enabled Parliament
to constitute Administrative tribunals for dealing with certain
matters like recruitment and conditions of service of persons
appointed to public services and posts in connection with the
affairs of union or of any state or of any local or other authority
within the territory of India or under the control of the Government
of India or of any corporation owned or controlled by the
government; while Article 323-B empowers the appropriate
legislature i.e. both the Parliament and the State legislatures to
establish tribunals for the adjudication or trial of any disputes,
complaints or offences with respect to matters like levy,
assessment, collection and enforcement of any tax, ceiling on urban
property, elections to the Houses of central or state legislatures and
any other matter. Parliament was further empowered to prescribe
by law the jurisdiction, power, authority and procedure of such
tribunals and also to exclude the jurisdiction of all the courts except
that of the Supreme Court under Article 136.5 Considering these
provisions of the Constitution, Parliament enacted Administrative
Tribunals Act 1985 which came into effect on November 1, 1985 for
the establishment of administrative tribunals for deciding service
disputes of civil servants of the centre as well as of the states.

2 Law Commission of India, 215 REPORT L. CHANDRA KUMAR BE REVISITED

available at
3 Id.
4 A.I.R. 1980 S.C. 2056.
5 CONSTITUTION OF INDIA, art. 323-A (2) (d), 323-B (3) (d).

Judicial Analysis of the Powers Christ University Law Journal, 3, 1 (2014)

Service Tribunals

The Central Administrative Tribunal is empowered to exercise all

the jurisdiction, power and authority exercisable immediately by
all courts except the Supreme Court.6 The Act does not, however
apply to the employees of the state of Jammu and Kashmir, any
member of the Naval, Military or Air Force or any other Armed
Forces of the Union, officers and servants of the Supreme Court
and High Courts, Secretarial Staff of the House of People, Council
of States and state legislative assemblies and councils.7 Central
Industrial Security Force and Cantonment Board also do not fall
under the jurisdiction of Central Administrative Tribunal.
In adjudicating disputes, the tribunals are not bound by the
procedure laid down by the Code of Civil Procedure8 but are
guided by the principles of natural justice. The tribunals are vested
with the same powers as of the civil courts under the Code of Civil
Procedure 1908.9 They may summon and enforce the attendance of
any witness for examining under oath. They can receive evidence
on affidavit and can examine the witnesses. The tribunals are
empowered to review their own decisions and in all procedural
matters including the fixing of places, time of inquiry. The tribunals
in order to regulate their own procedure are required to conform to
specific rules framed by the Central Government and to the
principles of natural justice.10
In relation to service matters, the jurisdiction, power and authority
is vested with the Administrative Tribunals to the exclusion of
various courts. Before the establishment of the Administrative
Tribunal for service matters, the suits for enforcement of any civil
right were entertained by the civil court.11 The jurisdiction of these
courts is now barred by the Administrative Tribunal Act 1985.12
Furthermore, there was a provision initially for the exclusion of all

6 See The Administrative Tribunal Act, 1985 § 12(1).

7 The Administrative Tribunal Act, 1985 §§ 1 (2) (b), 2.
8 The Administrative Tribunal Act, 1985 § 22.
9 The Administrative Tribunal Act, 1985 § 22 (3).
10 The Administrative Tribunal Act, 1985 § 35.
11 Code of Civil Procedure, 1908 § 9.
12 The Administrative Tribunal Act, 1985 § 29.

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the courts except the Supreme Court under Article 136 of the
Constitution.13 This provision has been amended14 after the case of
Sampath Kumar v. Union of India15 and the words ‘no court except’:
a) The Supreme Court or;
b) Any industrial tribunal, labour court or other authority
constituted under the Industrial Dispute Act, 1947 or any
other corresponding law for the time being in force,
have been inserted.
The jurisdiction of the High Court under Articles 226 and 227 has
also been barred by the provision of the enactment.16It cannot be
said that civil servants don not possess the right of judicial review
through the establishment of Administrative Tribunal by ousting
the jurisdiction of the High Court. The change made is that the
employees shall first go to Administrative Tribunal and thereafter
to the Supreme Court.
According to the Act, the tribunal is empowered to pronounce
judgment in civil proceedings which would be final17 except in
cases where an appeal under Article 136 of the Constitution to the
Supreme Court is preferred.

Judicial Analysis of the Powers and Functions of the

Administrative Tribunals

Since the Administrative Tribunal Act, 1985 provides appeal by

special leave to the Supreme Court, it is pertinent to explore the
contours of Article 136. Article 136 is a special provision and
covers generally the cases, which do not fall under Articles 132 to
134. This provision of the Constitution is not subjected to
certification by the High Courts as a fit case of appeal. Therefore, it
is a rare provision which can be swung into action to maintain the
spirit of the Constitution and to prevent the miscarriage of justice.

13 The Administrative Tribunal (Amendment) Act, 1986.

14 The Administrative Tribunal (Amendment) Act, 1986 § 28.
15 A.I.R. 1987 S.C. 386.
16 A.I.R. 1950 S.C. 188.
17 The Administrative Tribunal Act, 1985 § 30.

Judicial Analysis of the Powers Christ University Law Journal, 3, 1 (2014)

Article 136 confers discretion on the Supreme Court to grant special

leave to appeal before itself, from only judgment, determination,
sentence, order passed or made by any court or tribunal in any
cause or matter. Indeed, the judgment of the courts and Tribunals
can be appealed to the Supreme Court under the provisions of this
Article. However, what is a tribunal, is a subject matter of debate.
The meaning of the word tribunal as interpreted by the Supreme
Court in various appeals filed under the Article 136 of the
Constitution presents a vivid picture as to the meaning of the word
In Bharat Bank v. Employees of Bharat Bank,18 the five judge bench
while deciding the fate of appeal considered the question whether
the Supreme Court could entertain an appeal under Article 136
against an award of an industrial tribunal. The minority comprising
Mukherjee J., expressed the view that the tribunal’s function was
merely an extended form of the process of collective bargaining
and was more akin to administrative rather than judicial functions.
The Supreme Court could not grant special leave to appeal from an
award of industrial tribunal, because of the minority judgment.
Mahajan J., opined that the industrial tribunal has all the necessary
attributes of a court of justice. It discharges no other function except
that of adjudicating a dispute and such a tribunal could be
characterized as a quasi-judicial body because it is outside the
regular judicial hierarchy. Nevertheless, it discharges functions,
which are basically judicial in nature. Accordingly, it was held that
the Supreme Court could grant special leave to appeal under
Article 136 against an award of an industrial tribunal. Kania, C.J.
opined that even though the Supreme Court has jurisdiction to
grant leave to appeal from a decision given by an industrial
tribunal, the Supreme Court will be very reluctant to entertain the
application for leave to appeal. The apex court further opined that
the word ‘tribunal’ in the Article 136, meant a tribunal adorned
with similar trappings as a court and performing functions which
cannot but be regarded as judicial.

18 The Administrative Tribunal Act, 1985 § 28.

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In J&K Iron and Steel Co. Ltd. v. Iron and Steel Mazdoor Union,
Kanpur19, the question regarding whether the scope and authority of
adjudicator and state industrial tribunal is similar to the powers of
the civil court. The apex court stated howsoever wide their powers
are, these tribunals are not absolute though they are not courts in
the strict sense of the term. They have to discharge quasi judicial
functions and as such are subject to the over-riding jurisdiction of
the Supreme Court under Article 136 of the Constitution. Under the
Constitution, the ultimate authority is given to the higher courts to
restrain all exercise of absolute and arbitrary powers, not only by
the executive and by officials and lesser tribunals, but also by the
legislatures and even by the Parliament itself.
Further in Harinagar Sugar Mills v. Shyam Sunder,20 it was provided
that the attributes of a court is the part of a tribunal set up by a
state under its Constitution to exercise the judicial power of the
state i.e., the power to decide controversies between its subjects or
between itself and its subjects – to uphold rights and to punish
Moreover, a tribunal must be recognized by the law as a ‘court’,
and mere exercise of functions in a judicial manner is not enough. It
must exercise the power to decide by reason of the sanction of law
and not by the voluntary submissions of the parties to its
jurisdiction and like a court, must determine the controversy
objectively and impartially.
The ambit of the word ‘court’ is wider than ‘tribunal’. All courts are
tribunals, but all tribunals are not courts. The expression tribunal
means seat of judge, or a court of justice.21 The necessary attribute
is that it can give a final judgment between two parties, which
carries legal sanction by its own force. That the word ‘tribunal’ in
juxtaposition to the word ‘court’ could only mean a tribunal which
exercised judicial functions of the state and did not include within
its ambit a tribunal which had quasi-judicial or administrative
powers. It was finally said that by the use of word ‘tribunal’ in

19 A.I.R.
1956 S.C. 231.
20 A.I.R.
1961 S.C. 1669.
21 Durga Shankar Mehta v. Thakur Raghuraj Singh and Ors., A.I.R. 1954

S.C. 520.

Judicial Analysis of the Powers Christ University Law Journal, 3, 1 (2014)

Article 136, the intention was to give the similar meaning as

However in Durga Shanker’s Case,23 it was pointed out that the
expression ‘tribunal’ as used in Article 136 of the Constitution does
not mean the same thing as ‘court’ but includes within its ambit, all
adjudicating bodies, provided they are constituted by the state and
are invested with judicial as distinguished from purely
administrative or executive functions24.
Further in Engineering Mazdoor Sabha v. Hind Cycles Ltd.25 the
apex court observed that for invoking Article 136 (1) two conditions
must be satisfied:
i. the act complained against must have the character of a
judicial or quasi-judicial act as distinguished from a mere
executive or administrative act; and
ii. the authority whose act is complained against must be a
court or a tribunal.
Furthermore, the apex court distinguishing a ‘tribunal’ from a court
stated that the expression ‘court’ in the technical sense is a tribunal
constituted by the state as a part of ordinary hierarchy of courts,
which are invested with state’s inherent judicial powers. A tribunal
as distinguished from a court, exercises a judicial power and
decides matters brought before it judicially or quasi-judicially, but
does not constitute a court in the technical sense. The tribunal,
according to the dictionary meaning, is a ‘seat of justice’; and in the
discharge of its functions, it shares some of the characteristics of the
court. The domestic tribunal appointed in the departmental
proceedings as well as purely administrative tribunals are outside
the scope of Article 136 (1). Tribunals which are contemplated by
Article 136 (1), are clothed with some of the powers of the court.

22 Bharat Bank v. Employees of Bharat Bank A.I.R. 1950 S.C. 188.

23 Durga Shankar Mehta v. Thakur Raghuraj Singh and Ors., A.I.R. 1954
SC 520.
24 Durga Shankar Mehta v. Thakur Raghuraj Singh A.I.R. 1954 S.C. 520.
25 A.I.R. 1963 S.C. 874; See Jaswant Sugar Mills Ltd., Meerut v. Lakshmi

Chand A.I.R. 1963 S.C. 677,Indo-China Steam Navigation Co. Ltd. v. Jasjit
Singh A.I.R. 1964 S.C. 1140.

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They can compel the witnesses to appear; they can administer oath;
they are required to follow certain rules and procedure; the
proceedings before them are required to comply with rules of
natural justice; they are not be bound by the strict and technical
rules of evidence but nevertheless they must decide on evidence
adduced before them; they must not be bound by the other
technical rules of law, but their decisions must nevertheless be
consistent with the general principles of law. The procedural rules
which regulate the proceedings before the tribunal and the powers
conferred on them in dealing with matters brought before them are
sometimes described as ‘trapping of a court’. The basic and
essential condition that makes an authority or a body, a tribunal
under Article 136 is that it should be constituted by the state and
should be invested with the state’s inherent judicial power.
In Durga Shankar Mehta v. Raghuraj Singh,26the apex court opined
that the expression ‘tribunal’ includes within its ambit, all
adjudicating bodies, provided they are constituted by the state and
are invested with judicial functions. The powers given by Article
136 of the Constitution are in the nature of special or residuary
powers and vests in the Supreme Court a plenary jurisdiction in the
matter of entertaining appeals, by granting of special leave against
any kind of judgment or order made by a court or tribunal.
Moreover, the apex court has also observed that its scope and
power under Article 136 of the Constitution vis-à-vis awards of
tribunals is not that of a regular court of appeal against orders of
tribunals. Article 136 confers a discretionary power on the Supreme
Court to grant Special leave to appeal from the order of any
tribunal in the territory of India.27
Moreover, the Supreme Court expects the tribunals to record
speaking order even while summarily dismissing the appeals. The
condition of giving reason is only attached to an order made by the
government when it functions judicially as a tribunal in a

26 See Dhakeshwari Cotton Mills Ltd v. Commissioner of Income Tax,

West Bengal A.I.R 1955 S.C. 65;
M/s Bengal Chemical and Pharmaceutical Works Ltd. v. Their
Employees A.I.R. 1959 S.C. 633.
27 Hindustan Antibiotics Ltd. v. Workmen A.I.R. 1567 S.C. 948.

Judicial Analysis of the Powers Christ University Law Journal, 3, 1 (2014)

comparatively small number of matters and not in regard to other

administrative orders it passes. The condition to give reason
introduces clarity and exclude or at any rate minimizes
Further, it was opined that the principles of natural justice requires
a quasi-judicial tribunal not make a decision adverse to a party
without giving him an effective opportunity of meeting any
relevant allegation made against him but that depends on the facts
of each case and it is in the discretion of the tribunal.29
In reference to appeals from tax tribunals, it is observed that save in
exceptional and special circumstances, the Supreme Court would
not exercise its power under Article 136 in such a way as to bypass
the High Court by entertaining an appeal direct from the order of
Income Tax Appellate Tribunal and thereby ignore the decision
given by the High Court.30
In L. Chandra Kumar v. Union of India,31 the apex court opined that
the power of judicial review over legislative action vested in the
High Court under Article 226 and in the Supreme Court under
Article 32 of the Constitution is an integral and essential feature of
the Constitution, constituting part of its basic structure. Further, it
was opined that the tribunals are competent to hear matters where
the vires of statutory provisions are questioned. However, in
discharging this duty, they cannot act as substitutes for the High
Courts and the Supreme Court, which have, under the
constitutional set up, been specifically entrusted with such an
obligation. Their function in this respect is only supplementary and
all such decisions of the tribunal will be subject to scrutiny before a
division bench of the respective High Court. The tribunals will
consequently also have the power to test the vires of subordinate
legislations and rules. However, the power of the tribunals shall be
subjected to an exception that they shall not entertain any question
regarding the vires of their parent statutes following the settled

28 Madhya Pradesh Industries Ltd. v. Union of India A.I.R. 1966 S.C. 671.
29 Madhya Pradesh Industries Ltd. v. Union of India A.I.R. 1966 S.C. 671.
30 Commissioner of Income Tax, Bombay v. Lakhiram Ramdas A.I.R. 1967

S.C. 338.
31 A.I.R. 1997 S.C. 1125.

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principle that a tribunal which is a creation of a legislation cannot

declare the same to be unconstitutional. In such cases alone, the
concerned High Court may be approached directly. All other
decisions of the tribunals will also be subject to scrutiny before a
Division Bench of their respective High Court.
Thus, through this case, the apex court tried to save the jurisdiction
of constitutional courts from encroachment by legislature by
invoking the doctrine of ‘basic features of the Constitution'.
By comparing L. Chandra’s Case32 with Sampat Kumar's Case33, the
Supreme Court held that Sampat Kumar's Case was decided against
the background, that the litigation before the High Courts had
increased in an unprecedented manner and therefore, alternative
inquisitional mechanism was necessary to remedy the situation.
But it is self evident and a widely acknowledged truth that the
tribunals have not performed well, hence drastic measures are
necessary in order to elevate their standard by ensuring that they
stand up to constitutional scrutiny. Further, the court held that
because the constitutional safeguards which ensure the
independence of the judges of the Supreme Court and the High
Courts are not available to the members of the tribunals, hence they
cannot be considered full and effective substitute for the superior
judiciary in discharging the function of constitutional
interpretation. Against this backdrop, the court came to the
conclusion that Administrative Tribunals cannot perform a
substitutional role to the High Court, it can only be supplemental.
Further the Supreme Court in State of T.N. v. S. Thangavel,34 held
that members of the tribunal are not judges and their order is not a
judgment or decree under Section 2 (9) of the Civil Procedure Code
1908. At best their statements can be construed to be only orders for
the purpose of decision arrived at by the tribunal under the
Administrative Tribunal Act 1985.
Even though the judgment in the above cases does not ipso facto
apply to the Constitution of Jammu and Kashmir, but the ratio of
the case applies to the exercise of jurisdiction by the Jammu and

32 A.I.R. 1997 S.C. 1125.

33 A.I.R. 1987 S.C. 386.
34 (1997) 2 SCC 349.

Judicial Analysis of the Powers Christ University Law Journal, 3, 1 (2014)

Kashmir High Court. Thus, in Kendriya Vidyalaya Sangthan v. Subash

Sharma,35 it was held that the central government employees
working in the State of Jammu and Kashmir cannot by pass the
jurisdiction of the Central Administrative Tribunal. It has an
exclusive jurisdiction, as a court of first instance, in relation to
service matters concerning employees of the Kendriya Vidyalaya
posted in the State of Jammu and Kashmir.

Administrative Tribunal and the Doctrine of Stare Decisis

The ‘doctrine of precedent’ applies to the Administrative Tribunals

as well. The court held that whenever an application under Section
19 of the Administrative Tribunal Act 1985 is filed which involves a
question already concluded by an earlier decision, the tribunal
must take into account that decision as a precedent and decide
accordingly. If the tribunal dissents then the matter must be
referred to a larger bench.36


The basic purpose behind the establishment of administrative

tribunals is to provide expeditious justice to the civil servants,
which is not available under the traditional system. The apex court
has maintained that before availing the appellate powers under
Article 136, the person must exhaust the statutory remedies
available to him. Even this is a self imposed regulation of the apex
court in order to check the multiplicity of the proceedings before
the apex court. The above stance can be relaxed by the Supreme
Court if special circumstances justified as is highlighted in Chandi
Prasad Chokhani v. State of Bihar.37
It can thus be seen that the apex court can not only entertain the
cases from the regular courts, but also the cases determined by all
adjudicating bodies invested with judicial functions. It does not
matter that the statute empowering such adjudicating bodies with
power of adjudication does not provide for further appeals and

35 (2002) 4 S.C.C. 145.

36 K.Ajit Babu v. Union of India (1997) 6 S.C.C. 473.
37 A.I.R. 1961 S.C. 1708.

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confers conclusive finality to the decisions of the tribunals.38 The

special leave to appeal can be granted by the apex court if the
adjudicating bodies including tribunals do not observe the
principles of natural justice especially in cases where no reason for
decision has been provided by the adjudicating authorities.
Moreover, appeal by special leave shall be allowed by the Supreme
Court only in cases where there is likelihood of substantial and
grave injustice.
Thus, Administrative Tribunals will go a long way as a
supplementary dispute resolution mechanism and help in
minimizing the number of cases pending before the court.

38 Durga Shankar Mehta v. Raghuraj Singh A.I.R. 1954 S.C. 520.